September brought the inevitable drying of my spirit again. I knew it had come when every time a light lit up for me and I went to it, the dry would touch me and what I thought was there would disappear. Over and over, it happened, like the touch-me-nots that close in on themselves the minute they are touched. Every prayer direction, every prayer itself, would close itself away from me just as I reached out to embrace it.
I didn’t understand what God was trying to tell me. I am more than familiar with the spiritual aridity God has allowed for me for some years now. I know it from the signs. Exactly the desert. Devoid of almost everything.
But this time it was different. I was being shown signs. Little lights that came and almost immediately receded out of sight. The signs stayed only as long as it took me to notice them, and then, they were gone.
St Jude. The Illumination of Conscience. St Michael. Pray for protection. St Jude. Seven Sorrows Rosary.
Nonetheless, I took each one and its call to heart. I followed every light in what little obedience I could summon. I followed them despite doubts. I followed them despite the absence of consolation that it was the right thing to do.
Yet, I remained troubled at the briefness of each praying period and the quick change to another prayer. I was afraid that I wasn’t discerning the signs right. I was afraid that ‘something else’ might be fooling with me, making me tear down after each light so that I would soon be breathless, frazzled and distracted.
But I wasn’t. I wasn’t out of breath. I wasn’t frazzled. I wasn’t distracted. Despite the rapid shifts in spiritual calls I was seeing, alongside the inner aridity, coexisted a strange calm and deep quiet. Dryness and water impossibly together.
Church matters required that my family be at church on Saturday. There, a complete stranger, a lapsed Catholic married to a non-Christian, sought my company. She was hurting deeply. The kids were a problem. Money was a problem. Intense business rivalry had cost her her business. She had only come to our Catholic parish to send her non-Catholic kids to a free coaching programme.
She had interrupted me in the midst of my task and I had to force myself to focus fully on this woman pouring her heart out to me. I covertly traced crosses on myself that I say nothing to upset her further, that I add nothing to her already immense burdens and fears. As the words tumbled out of her, I was much aware of the Our Lady of Lourdes statue that loomed high above the grotto behind this woman. Glancing at the statue, I silently prayed that I be emptied of myself. Emptied so that Mother Mary could touch this woman in her sorrows through me. I asked for Mother’s words. I asked for Mother’s touch.
Desperate to help this poor woman, I gently suggested Holy water. I gently turned the woman towards the Rosary. The sprinkling of Holy Water and the recitation of the Rosary, even just gripping it without the words, were my own, habits formed from pain and sorrow and fears much like this stranger’s. But steering this lady towards them, I felt we were going nowhere. I didn’t feel Mother Mary’s power course through me. I didn’t feel that my words had come from heaven. So, I stopped trying to turn her towards those life-savers. Instead, I said our goodbyes, I gave her my promise: I would pray for her.
And her aching reply to me was, Don’t forget my name.
Later, I discovered that the coaching programme this woman had come to church to send her kids to was run by the St. Vincent de Paul society members of our church. I had known of this outreach to the poor, but had forgotten about it.
Yet, the moment I heard the name St Vincent de Paul, I felt it tug at my spirit.
Short hours later, I entered the empty church for some quiet time. I looked at the big Divine Mercy image before me and remembered I had a load of prayer needs. So, I went before my Lord and set down my prayer cart filled with the needs and aches – both mine and of others, including the distraught stranger’s. I pressed her name to Jesus’s Heart.
After a time, I got up to leave. About to go out the church door, I spied a small booklet tucked into one of the pew kneelers. Curious, I picked it up. It was on the various Marian apparitions. There was a brief list of them – Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, Knock and Akita. The Akita apparitions caught my attention. I still had time, so I sat down to read about it.
Instead of Akita, my searching fingers stopped at the Rue du Bac Marian apparitions experienced by St. Catherine Labouré. She had been a young nun of the order of the Daughters of Charity.
The order had been started by St. Vincent de Paul.
Honestly, honestly, had I not heard of the apostolate of the same name earlier, had I not left my work to give my full attention to that distraught and searching stranger, had I not remembered her name to God as I had promised, St. Vincent de Paul wouldn’t have sunk in as deeply, and I would have skipped this read and gone on to the Akita apparitions.
But St. Vincent de Paul had felt much like all the other lights of September, perhaps more so. Coming twice in the space of such short hours, there was a firmness to it that my spirit was alerted to. So, I read on about Rue du Bac apparitions which I thought I knew pretty well.
It turned out I had more to learn. I was surprised when in it I found answers to my most recent queries. I had been asking God for some days if I had discerned the prayer calls right. Prayer wasn’t coming easy and the flitting from one prayer call to another had me in spiritual jitters. I had even wondered if that meant I needed to do something other than just pray, if I needed to stop.
And there in that little book was a line that caught my heart: …..Mary offered advice to the young woman, including the need to rely on prayer.
It was a commonplace sentence but the way it fell into my heart told me those were no mere words. They were Heaven’s answers to my September seeking. It was waiting for me in that little book on Mother Mary’s appearances to those on earth.
I was led to it by St. Vincent de Paul.
Suddenly, those all those little random lights of before right up to this day didn’t seem disconnected nor so little any more. Every one of those were like the touch-me-nots my lens had caught in August, steering me away from what should not be my focus, towards the vital stones that were set in the footpaths of this September that I was being called to tread.
Those lights were not distractions. They were not misread. That was why even as I thought I was being rushed from one port of call to another, I didn’t feel torn or stretched, despite the absence of consolation that I was doing what was right.
I went home a happy woman that day. God had answered me and I was all ready to return to prayer with a renewed and refreshed vigour.
As the sable breezes of night began to sing their hymns, the Marian apparitions of Rue du Bac appeared once more before me. This time, I was led to Mother Mary’s appearance in the 2nd apparition.
She was standing on top of a white globe, which only the superior area was seen, and she was crushing a green serpent with yellow dots. Her hands where elevated to her hearts height and she was holding another small globe of gold, crown with a cross. The Virgin Mary had a supplicant attitude, as if offering the globe….
…..The (white) globe at Her feet: the sin of the world… The globe in Her hands: the world offered to Jesus through Her hands.
White globe…..superior area…seen…the words settled on my heart and awakened a memory.
A memory of a dream. A dream of a huge white map in a blue sky.
A year ago on the 28th of October, on the feast of St Jude, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases, I had a dream of walking on a street. It felt like an old part of some European town. The streets were clean and narrow, the buildings that lined it almost colonial, clean and whitewashed. There was an old feel to the streets.
Then, I looked up and saw an impossibly huge, startling white map of the world spread out in the bluest of cloudless skies. My attention seemed to be riveted towards Africa. After the initial shock, I rather quickly dismissed the map and continued my walk even as the map remained suspended in the sky.
Suddenly I turned to the back and saw a big, equally white statue of Our Lady on the road kerb behind me. Immediately, I looked back up at the white map in the sky.
And I was now seized with a deep fear of what that map meant.
The dream continued to a second part.
I was in the compound of a little, green church. Interiorly, I knew it to be a St Jude parish. It was crammed full of happy, peaceful and charitable people; there seemed to be standing room only. A cousin saw me and smiled at me. It felt like she was trying to tell me all was well. After a while, I moved to leave.
As I was leaving the church, I felt these words impressed upon me ~
Pray for others.
Soon after that dream, I sought the counsel of my confessor. He advised me to move on from my present prayers. He told me to pray for Africa since it seemed to hold my attention through the map.
I obeyed my confessor immediately. I lashed myself to this prayer call and gave it my all. Through the ebb and flow of almost a year, I have forced and forced myself to pray for Africa.
Yet, every time I prayed this way, I felt an inner resistance. Initially, I put it down to reluctance to go beyond the intercessory borders familiar to me. After months of struggling, I sensed it might not be mere reluctance. It felt like something else was holding me away from the prayer. So I prayed to be guided.
Today, I think the Rue du Bac apparitions have cleared the mists a little. The white globe in the Rue du Bac apparition is the white map in my dream.
St Jude is the key to this certainty. St Jude’s coming to me in August through September in the quiet and prompt way he answered the cry of my heart over one of my children, is the tinkle of a silver bell. God could have sent any one of my favourite saints, or even a new one. But He chose St Jude – because he was linked to the white map of my dream. It was his voice I heard in the second half of the dream: Pray for others, telling me all I had prayed for before this were safe in his church, the little green church, and as my confessor discerned – in advance – it was time for me to move on.
St Jude had come before October to get my attention through my family needs because he had another mission: it was time he heralded the time of the map to me.
To seal my certainty of the links in this dream to the apparition is Our Lady of Rue du Bac Herself. I had always assumed She had appeared as OL of Fatima in my dream because She had been in white and I didn’t know of any other apparitions where She had appeared attired in this colour. However, in my dream, Her hands were not pressed together. She was in total white and her hands were spread out.
This was how She had appeared in Her apparition to St Catherine Labouré. I see that only now. A bell is ringing through this little detail.
At a time when the weather is raging at a world that dared to plunder and steal from Nature, at a time when we seem so broken and divided yet united in wanting to hurt one another, the dream of the white map has returned to the skies of my life. Little lights, one lit by the other, have illumined the footpath that has led to this moment.
And I need to know what I am to do next.
One thing is certain: It is not a knowing that I can summon imperiously. This knowledge of the path ahead will only come through obedience to fulfil in perfection the littlest of calls from Heaven.
Just as before, it will be the depth of my obedience and humility in saying Yes to God that will light the next lamp, to part the mists of whatever lies ahead.